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Posts Tagged ‘general contractor’

Is An Employee’s Intentional Act An Employer’s “Accident”?

Posted on: July 10th, 2018

By: Rebecca Smith and Zach Moura

It may just be, according to the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Liberty Surplus Ins. Corp. v. Ledesma & Meyer Construction Co., Inc. (June 4, 2018, No. S236765).  In Liberty v. Ledesma, the underlying lawsuit was brought by a minor who sought damages for molestation committed by an employee of a general contractor (“L&M”) while the employee was working on a long-term construction project at the minor’s school.  In response to this underlying suit and the tendering of the action by L&M to its carrier, Liberty Surplus Insurance Corporation and Liberty Insurance Underwriters (“Liberty”), Liberty filed a declaratory relief action seeking to adjudicate that they had no duty to provide coverage under a general liability policy.

The certified question presented to the Supreme Court by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was when a third party sues an employer for negligent hiring, retention and supervision of an employee who intentionally injured that third party, does the suit allege an “occurrence” under the employer’s general liability policy?  The Supreme Court responded that the answer turns on whether the injury can be considered “accidental” and concluded “it can.”

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the act of L&M in hiring the employee who later turned out to be the molester was intentional and that the employee’s molestation of the student was also intentional; however, held that because L&M did not “expect” its employee to molest a student, an accident transpired as required by the definition of “occurrence” in the Liberty policy.  The Court emphasized that the issue of whether an act constituted an accident for purpose of coverage MUST be viewed from the standpoint of the insured.  Explaining their decision, the Court stated that because the molester’s acts were unanticipated from L&M’s perspective, they were accidents in the context of providing insurance.  The allegedly negligent hiring, retention and supervision were independently tortious acts according to the Supreme Court, which form the basis of their claim against Liberty for defense and indemnification.  Further, the Court stated that the molester’s intentional conduct did not preclude potential coverage for L&M.

While the Supreme Court effectively wiped out a line of California Court of Appeal decisions which held that the unexpected consequences of an intentional act are not an accident, the Court pointed out that if the determination was justified in that if the insurer’s argument regarding the definition of occurrence and accident were accepted, it would leave employers without coverage for claims of negligent hiring, retention or supervision whenever the employee’s conduct is deliberate.  Such a result, the Court opined, would be inconsistent with California law, which recognizes the cause of action even when the employee acted intentionally.

It is expected that the opinion will lead to an increase in claims to insurers from employers facing negligent hiring claims.  It may also lead to an increase in litigation of coverage for liability claims based on intentional acts that result in allegedly unexpected injury, which would previously have been denied on the basis that the unexpected consequences of an intentional act are not an accident and therefore, not an occurrence under personal injury liability coverage.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rebecca Smith at [email protected] or Zach Moura at [email protected].

Pay-When-Paid Clauses: A Cautionary Tale

Posted on: March 28th, 2018

By: Jake Carroll

With the recent surge of construction projects in Georgia, the memories of owner and developer bankruptcies following the 2008 financial crisis may have grown dim. Nevertheless, material suppliers and subcontractors must remember that when the pace slows down, their contracts could leave them without remedy or recourse to seek payment.

One of the most common issues in construction disputes is whether a general contractor is obligated to pay its subcontractor before the general contractor has received payment from the owner for the work. Most construction subcontracts address this problem and attempt to make the owner’s payment to the general contractor a condition precedent to the general contractor’s obligation to pay the subcontractor. Typically, these clauses are known as “pay when paid” clauses because they condition the general contractor’s obligation to pay the subcontractor upon receipt of payment by the owner.

Georgia appears to adhere to the rule that if the contract makes payments from the owner a condition precedent to the general contractor’s obligation to pay, then the general contractor’s obligation never arises if the owner becomes insolvent and never makes a payment. See Vratsinas Constr. Co. v. Triad Drywall, LLC, 739 S.E.2d 493 (Ga. Ct. App. 2013). Thus, if an owner fails to pay a general contractor due to the owner’s bankruptcy, the subcontractor also remains unpaid. What’s more, the provisions of the automatic stay in Bankruptcy cases may prevent the subcontractor from claiming or enforcing its rights under Georgia’s mechanic lien statutes—depending on the specific circumstances of the Project. See 11 U.S.C. 362. When combined, these circumstances leave the unpaid subcontractor with limited legal remedies and could lead the subcontractor to consider its own option for relief under the Bankruptcy code.

In order to avoid these potential payment issues, all parties in the construction process should carefully review their contracts for “pay when paid” clauses during the contract negotiation and drafting phase of the Project. And despite subcontractors’ limited bargaining power in modifying the terms of its subcontract, full awareness of the contract terms should allow the subcontractor to mitigate risk on its Projects. For advice on specific language or for questions regarding general construction contract terms and conditions, contact Jake Carroll at [email protected] or any member of the FMG Construction Practice Group.

 

Cumis Counsel Limited: Insurer-Appointed Counsel Requires Actual Conflict of Interest

Posted on: February 9th, 2018

By: David G. Molinari

The California Third District Court of Appeals has ruled that the right to Cumis counsel, independent counsel paid by the insurer (San Diego Federal Credit Union v. Cumis Insurance Soc’y, 162 Cal. App. 3d 358 (1984)) requires an actual as opposed to a potential conflict.  In Centex Homes v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, (Case C081266, January 22, 2018) the Court of Appeals concluded that Cumis counsel is not required absent a reasonable likelihood of an actual conflict when an additional insured carrier accepts a tender of a developer/general contractor’s defense subject to a reservation of rights and appoints defense counsel.

In Centex Homes the homeowners sued developer for construction defects.  Developer tendered the defense to the insurer of a subcontractor involved in the project as an additional insured.  The insurer provided an attorney to defend the developer under a reservation of rights against any claims not covered by the subcontractor’s policy.  Developer hired their own attorney who filed a cross-complaint against the subcontractors, including the subcontractor under whose policy the developer was being defended.  The developer argued that the case presented a “potential” conflict of interest that required the appointment of independent counsel under Cumis.

The Third District Court of Appeals ruled otherwise.  The court concluded to the extent Cumis suggests a potential conflict arises wherever the insurer reserved its right to deny coverage being sufficient to require the appointment of independent counsel, the plain language of California Civil Code Section 2860 limits the Cumis right.  Under Civil Code Section 2860 the conflict must be actual, not merely potential.  The insurer-appointed counsel in Centex Homes was in no position to control the outcome in the case which focused on causation.  On the issue of causation, the insurer and the developer had the same interests defending the underlying claim.

Further, the developer argued independent counsel was required because the insurer-appointed counsel had a conflict of interest under Rule 3-310 of the Rules of Professional Conduct: “Avoiding Representation of Adverse Interests.”  Again, the Court of Appeals determined otherwise.  The court concluded that while generally conceptualized, defense counsel represents the interests of both the insurer and the insured, they are not necessarily both clients in the matter as contemplated under the Rules of Professional Conduct for conflicts of interest.  As the Court of Appeal viewed Rule 3-310 (C), the rule was not intended to apply to the relationship between an insurer and a member of the bar when the insurer’s interest is as an indemnity provider and not a direct party to the action.  In Centex the court concluded there was no actual conflict of interest presented in the case.

Centex Homes may signal the limitation and narrowing of the right to independent counsel in construction litigation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Molinari at [email protected].

Minnesota High Court Rules that Additional Insured is not Covered in the Absence of Negligence of the Named Insured

Posted on: March 28th, 2013

By: Bart Gary

Many contracts, especially construction contracts, will contain a provision whereby one party, usually a subcontractor, agrees to add the other party to the contract, usually the general contractor, as an additional insured on the former’s insurance coverage. Where the additional insured has its own coverage, the question arises as to whether there are in effect multiple insurance coverages for the additional insured, and whether the named insured’s insurance policy must answer for claims against the additional insured.

The Supreme Court of Minnesota was confronted with a very unusual set of facts. A general contractor was an additional insured in the liability policy of its subcontractor. The general contractor directed the subcontractor where to install sheet piles; however, the subcontractor actually drove the piles and thereby damaged underground pipes. A jury had determined that the subcontractor was not negligent in damaging the pipes.  The general contractor nevertheless contended that it was covered under the subcontractor’s liability insurance policy as an additional insured.

The Court held that the additional insured endorsement in the subcontractor’s insurance policy is plainly for vicarious or derivative liability of the additional insured based upon the negligence of the principal, or named, insured. Vicarious liability arises where one party, for example an employer, is liable for the conduct of an employee by the relationship. Since the general contractor could be vicariously liable only if the subcontractor was liable, the jury’s exoneration of the subcontractor meant that the general contractor was not covered as an additional insured on the subcontractor’s policy. Eng’g. & Constr. Innovations, Inc. v. L.H. Bolduc Co., 825 N.W.2d 695 (Minn. 2013).